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By Tim Leeds 

Congress passes $2 trillion COVID-19 aid package, president signs

 

March 30, 2020



Congress passed Friday the third — and by far the largest — aid package to help people, businesses and local governments deal with the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic, and President Donald Trump signed the $2 trillion package into law the same day.

The same weekend, Montana had its second death of someone suffering from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, confirmed, and Gov. Steve Bullock confirmed this morning the state has suffered its third and fourth deaths, both from Toole County.

“Losing two more Montanans to COVID-19 is a blow to our statewide community” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a release. Today’s news is a heartbreaking reminder to us all that we must continue to do everything we can to slow the spread of this disease. Montanans in every corner of our state are keeping the family and friends of these Montanans in our hearts.”

Bullock said Sunday that Madison County Public Health Department notified the state of the second death, and the governor’s Coronavirus Task Force confirmed it.

Montana State University Extension already is including the package in a webinar it is offering to help people deal with the financial impacts of the pandemic and local, state and national restrictions including people being laid off due to business restrictions and closures.

Extension is offering “Solid Finances: COVID-19: Financial Issues for Consumers,” from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday.

People who want to participate are asked to log in a few minutes early so as to download a free version of Adobe Connect, which is necessary to view the webinar, MSU said in a release.

The webinar will examine three main topics:

• Federal stimulus legislation that impacts consumers.

• Resources for dealing with job loss or income reductions.

• How people can protect themselves from financial scams.

The session will be presented by MSU Extension’s Joel Schumacher, family and consumer sciences state program leader, and North Dakota State University’s Carrie Johnson, assistant professor and personal and family finance specialist.

Virus continues to spread

The federal package is intended to help defray the costs of the pandemic, first detected in China in December, and spread rapidly.

World Health Organization declared a pandemic, a global outbreak of a disease, March 11, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state emergency March 12 and President Donald Trump declared a national emergency March 13 — the day the first cases of the virus were confirmed in Montana.

Since then, the state has confirmed that two Montanans suffering from COVID-19 have died, and the state map, available online at http://bit.ly/MTCoronavirusMap, reported at 8 this morning that 171 cases have been confirmed in Montana.

The map is updated daily at 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this morning 140,904 confirmed cases in the United States, with 2,405 deaths. The virus has been confirmed in all 50 states and The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas and U.S. Virgin Islands.

World Health Organization reported this morning 693,224 cases in 203 countries, areas or territories around the world, with 33,106 deaths confirmed.

The United States has the largest number of confirmed cases, WHO reports.

Aid to help with the pandemic

The aid package did not pass as quickly as the first two smaller packages. The Senate unanimously passed the package Wednesday after three days of negotiations between the Republican Senate leadership and the Democrats before it was passed by the House.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the package that passed Friday includes $1.25 billion for Montana, part of $150 billion made available to state, local and tribal governments to set up local relief funds.

Tester said in a release Friday that those funds were not included in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s initial draft legislation that was voted down March 22 and again March 23 but were added as a result of the three days of negotiations.

“Now that this bill is law, I’m going to fight aggressively to ensure Montana workers and small businesses can immediately access the relief they need,” Tester said in the release. “Montana’s state, local and tribal governments are fighting on the front lines of this pandemic, and I fought tooth and nail to secure $1.25 billion in this final package so our state has as many tools as possible to keep our communities healthy and safe. But our fight against effects of this virus is just beginning: I’ll be working to make sure this money is getting swiftly into the hands of the folks that need it, and continuing to push for investments in the medical equipment our state so desperately needs to contain the disease.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., urged his fellow House members to vote for the bill Friday.

“It helps families and workers so they can pay their bills and put food on the table,” his prepared remarks said. “It provides loans and grants to small businesses so they can keep their doors open and their employees on payroll. It boosts funding to support those on the front lines — from our hospitals and health care providers to the CDC to VA facilities.”

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., also praised the package after it passed the Senate Friday.

“I’m grateful that Congress came together in these unprecedented times to deliver this critical economic rescue package for Montana and the American people as we navigate through the coronavirus outbreak,” he said in a release. “This package is about delivering major relief for our workers, small businesses, our moms and dads, neighbors and friends, hospital workers and first responders, who are holding on to hope for a better tomorrow.

In his release Friday, Tester highlighted some of the aid in the bill:

For small businesses

• $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.

• $17 billion for SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.

• A Small Business Paycheck Protection Program to provide loans for small businesses, nonprofits, vet and self-employed individuals to cover 8-weeks of payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utility costs that will be up to 100 percent forgivable for Main Street businesses that fully maintain their workforce.

For workers and families

• $1,200 one-time payment for Americans making less than $75,000, with an additional $500 per child

• Unemployment Insurance maximum benefits are increased by $600 per week to ensure laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months, and this applies to all workers whether they work for small, medium or large businesses, along with self-employed and gig workers

• Income tax exclusion for individuals who are receiving student loan repayment assistance from their employer

 

For hospitals, health care workers, emergency medical services and equipment

• $150 billion for direct aid to our health care system, including $100 billion for hospitals

• $1.3 billion in funding for community health centers to continue operations through Nov. 30, beyond the current funding cliff of May 22

• $16 billion to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile with pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment for frontline health workers and other medical supplies — McConnell bill only had $1.7 billion

• $11 billion in new funds to support development of a vaccine and other therapeutics for COVID-19, including $156 million for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to accelerate research and development of treatment and vaccines

• $850 million in Byrne JAG funding to help state and local law enforcement purchase personal protective equipment and pay for officer overtime

• $100 million for Assistance to Firefighter grants to help ensure local firefighters and EMTs have equipment

• $45 million for Family Violence Prevention Services Grants to assist victims of domestic violence

• $200 million for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to assist nursing homes with infection control

• $425 million for mental health funding 

For state, local and tribal governments

• $150 billion for a state, tribal and local Coronavirus Relief fund with an $8 billion tribal set aside

• $30.75 billion in funding for an Education Stabilization Fund

• $13.5 billion for K-12 schools to respond to the urgent needs of their students in the midst of school closures

• $14.25 billion for colleges, universities and institutions of higher education to directly support students and institutions

• $400 million to help states prepare to for the 2020 elections while keeping voters and poll workers safe

 

For veterans

• $19.6 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs including;

• $14 billion for essential medical and protective equipment including the purchase of testing kits, personal protective equipment and medical supplies

• $2.15 billion to bolster telehealth capabilities

• $13 million to safeguard VA benefits

For Tribes

• More than $10 billion for Indian Country:

• $8 billion in emergency funds to help Tribes recover from the effects of COVID-19

• $1 billion to the Indian Health Service to support tribal health care system response efforts

• $453 million for operation of essential tribal government services funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs

• $100 million in additional funding for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

• $69 million to help tribal schools, colleges and universities through the Bureau of Indian Education

• $300 million in additional funding for the Indian Tribal Block Grant program

 

For rural Montana

• $9.5 billion in assistance for agricultural producers, including fresh-produce farmers and livestock producers

• $42 billion in investments in both airports and their workers, as well as increased funding for Essential Air Service. It also provides loans to airlines as well as direct payroll payments for airline employees and new authority for the Department of Transportation to keep passenger air service flying to rural America

• $1 billion to Amtrak, which will help maintain long-distance routes, and $25 billion to transit systems so that they can remain operational and prepared for the pandemic

For accountability – all provisions are new, none were included in the McConnell bill

• Eliminates “secret bailout” provision that would have allowed bailouts to corporations to be concealed for 6 months under the McConnell plan

• Creates a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery at the Department of Treasury to prevent and identify any incidents of waste, fraud and abuse

• Establishes a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee loans to businesses to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently and effectively

• Prohibit businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs

• Ban stock buybacks for the term of the government assistance plus one year on any company receiving a government loan from the bill.

 

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